Movie Reviews

Phantasm: An Erratic Struggle of Life and Death


        The creepy undertaker that you thought was a little odd in your neighborhood has, indeed, always existed. With this movie, however, you worst associated fears are for real. This film is a dreamy blend of horror and sci-fi and fantasy; it is quite a theatrical combination for the time. Two brothers, Mike and Jody Pearson, discover that their local mortuary has menacing goings on, especially at night. The devious person behind all of this is known by the locals as the Tall Man. He is a creepy, tall old man whose trademark is a black suit with platform shoes; it is surely something right out of Mad magazine. To create matters and scenes with more flavor, add a flying drilling-ball, a demonic mortician, and hooded dwarfs who enslave the souls of the damned who are buried in a place that is called “Morningside Cemetery” (imagine the irony).


Phantasm movie poster, 1979.

        Freshly scripted, but with a smashed plot and hallucinogenic mentality from the younger brother Mike Pearson, the film ‘floats’ into one chaotic scene into the next. In one clash of scenes, the film transports itself into another world, possibly a new planet where these ‘dwarfs’ are sending bodies to undertake some unknown and diabolical purpose. Animation, atmosphere, creepy music and dank fantasy and blood spurting imagery all contribute to making this film a delight for horror fanatics as well as teenagers who are obsessed with sex, death, and gore. Phantasm is not a perfect horror film, which is the point. However, it does propose paradoxes and questions which the viewer often plagues his mind with. Despite flashes and collisions of violence, sex, and death, the film does have positive attributes towards adolescents and adults in general.

        Without using a spoiler alert, this is a film about mourning and death. The younger brother, Mike, is still smitten with the aftermath of the passing of both his parents from an accident; his older brother, Jodi, whom he looks up to, is left with the burden of caring for him. However, he does not shun him. When he is finally able to convince his older brother of all the strange mischief that has accrued in their town, they both decide to discover the dark secrets that hover over the town. It is from here that the film goes into sporadic convulsions of symbolism and themes. Insecurities and fears of both adults and teenagers are considered; there is also the pleasurable side of life, such as sex and drinking and fast cars. While investigating the strange happenings in the town, the older brother, Jodi, must decide what to pursue next to benefit the situation of his younger brother, Mike.

        Mike, however, is just as busy being engaged as a teenager and gets into some risky situations as his curiosity expands about the local cemetery and mausoleum. (These themes would set the standard for later horror movies, typically of the 80’s.)

        As with any good horror movie, this film has its own special effects; it has plenty of blood for a nail-biting starter. A mysterious flying drilling-ball claims some unfortunate victims by chasing them down and inserting itself into the foreheads and drilling directly into their skulls and brains from which a stream of blood pours forth enough gore to make one almost turn away. The mausoleum itself, although contained with ornate marble busts and extravagantly decorated walls, has a spooky and cold echoe that captures the heartbeat and attention of the viewer whenever a person is heard approaching; it seems everyone is wearing hard sole dress shoes and is loud enough to wake the dead.

        Like the disorderly conduct of this review, the film is all over the place, with both horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. I think the film does a splendid job of juggling all three genres, though with limitation, albeit an eventful one. In foggy spots, the film is sentimental and charming. Kids being kids with a struggling young adult attempting to make sense and purpose of his own life, while not trying to ignore the needs of his younger sibling. There is also a wonderful accolade of exploring life and death and coming to terms, somehow, with all of it. Understanding the chaos of their own lives is the underlying symbolism of all the chaos that is replete of the town in which they reside in. The unique gloom and warm sincerity of each character situations are what precisely drives the story. It may not end well, but it may not even end. Phantasm explores, through both adults and teenagers, the darker and more consternate moments of humanity; the film does not seem to be interested in any answer, only to just cope with the result.


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